Three races remain in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season. The drivers will enjoy a week off next week, so all energy and efforts will go into this week’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Thunder Valley is a half-mile track built like a Colosseum, so it is loud and the racing will be exciting for Saturday’s event.
Odds are on the right-hand side for desktop viewers and down below the comment box for mobile viewers as we take a look at Race #24 of the MENCS season.
The Toughest Ticket in Town
Tickets aren’t what they used to be for the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway, but this is still one of the most popular events on the NASCAR calendar. The racing is almost always good on the .533-mile track at Bristol and the concept of a night race used to be pretty unique. Now there are a handful over the course of the year, so the novelty has worn off to a degree, but this is still a big deal.
Bristol Motor Speedway is the third-largest sports venue in the US and this used to be an impossibly hard ticket to get. This is an aggressive race with lots of bumping and jockeying for position, which always brings out the “oohs” and “ahhs”.
We don’t have much drama in the Xfinity Series, but we’ve got some in the Cup Series. Jimmie Johnson is on the outside looking in with three races left. He is 12 points below the cut line. Daniel Suarez was fifth last week to narrow the gap and he sits six points behind Clint Bowyer, who is 16th. The top 16 make the playoffs, unless somebody inside the top 30, but outside the top 16, gets a win. That seems highly unlikely with the three races that are left.
Bowyer is 10 points behind Ryan Newman for a little more security. Erik Jones is 54 points clear of Newman, so the last two spots are really the only ones up for grabs.
Drivers are still going for playoff points, though. Points leader Kyle Busch has the most with 29. Martin Truex Jr. is fifth in points, but second in bonus playoff points. Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, and Denny Hamlin make up spots 2, 3, and 4. Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Alex Bowman make up the top 10.
The only driver outside of the top eight in points with a win is Bowman, who won at Chicagoland.
Bump N Grind
Bristol is a tough, physical race. Paint will be rubbing and damage is all but certain. The .533-mile track bunches the drivers up and it is a very narrow track as well. One of the occupational hazards here is that the back of the field can have a significant impact in terms of getting in the way. Last week fuel was a big problem in Kevin Harvick’s win, as several drivers ran out of the car’s lifeblood with just a few laps left. That won’t be as much of an issue this week as wrecks. And the laggards at the back of the pack that will have been lapped 10 times over could get in the way.
The turns have really significant degrees of banking here, which makes it even tougher. The idea of a 266.5-mile race taking over three hours is hard to fathom, but cautions slow this thing down a lot.
That makes it hard to bet this race because there will be a lot of disabled vehicles when all is said and done.
Busch at Bristol
Both of them, really. Kurt ended a 12-year drought at Bristol with a win in this race last year. Kyle has five wins in the spring race and three wins in this race, with his most recent summer win coming in 2017. Kyle’s eight career wins here trail only Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, and Dale Earnhardt. With a win as a +275 favorite, he’ll join Cale Yarborough, Waltrip, and Earnhardt as the only drivers with at least four wins in both races.
So, he’s the man to beat without question. He won the spring race in both 2018 and 2019. He was 20th in his brother’s win last year, but he led the most laps in 2015 and 2016 before his 2017 win. He’s as good as it gets at this track and a very deserving favorite.
Harvick and Logano are co-second favorites at +770. Harvick has wins in two of his last four races and led the most laps at Pocono before finishing sixth. It seems like the bad luck from early in the season is behind him. While we surely have to respect his talent and his team, Harvick won a rain-delayed summer race in 2016 and the spring race in 2005. He hasn’t had consistent success here.
Logano won this race in 2014 and 2015. He has finished 10th, 13th, and 4th the last three years. He was third in the spring. Logano does like smaller tracks with tighter racing. He’s always done well in the plate races on the big tracks, but he’s a multiple winner at Richmond and New Hampshire. Of course, he’s also a three-time winner at Michigan. He’s just a solid driver and a better bet than Harvick at this price point.
Truex and, oddly enough, Kyle Larson are next up at +880. Truex has never won this race and actually hasn’t finished higher than 20th since 2012. He hasn’t finished higher than eighth in the spring race since that same year. He’s gotten better on short tracks after being a 1.5-mile trick pony for a while, but he’s still a longer shot here than the price would suggest.
Larson does have four top-five finishes in his last seven starts, so maybe things are turning around a bit for him. He was second in this race last year, but it was just his second top-five in 12 tries at Bristol. This price seems a tad out of touch as well.
I have to be honest. I never really realized how solid Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth were until I started looking at historical results to find value on some guys. Edwards and Kenseth won a lot and won at a lot of short tracks.
There aren’t a lot of guys that have consistently run well here. Kurt Busch was second in the spring and won this race last year, so you could do worse than him at +2100. Ryan Blaney led the most laps in the spring and led the most laps in this race last year. He’s not a bad bet at +1980 and is certainly a good look as an underdog in matchups.
Kyle Busch should win, barring a crash here, but the crash potential is pretty high with a race like this. That makes +275 a hard pill to swallow. I’d be looking at Logano at +880 and then taking a shot with Blaney at +1980. Maybe you can look at Busch in some matchups where the crash potential is mitigated some by the fact that his head-to-head competitor is just as likely to wreck.